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Newest champion for local arts brings big vision

Holley Calmes

County Seat Player’s representative David Suddoth put forth a vision last year for performing arts groups in Gwinnett. He and others from County Seat Players, Lionheart Productions and the Gwinnett Choral Guild banded together to form the Gwinnett Performing Arts Coalition (GPAC).
Their specific goal was to find a building that could serve community arts groups as performing and rehearsal space. With the help of others, such as Mike Stevens and Tonya Carroll, the group continues to reach towards this goal.
Now a new spokeswoman for this effort has stepped forward with great enthusiasm and determination. Her name is Joanie McElroy, and she’s a Duluth resident, mother of three and theater professional.
Joanie jumped on the GPAC bandwagon while she was directing the Lionheart production of “The Rainmaker” last year. She wanted to ask Phil Miles, a member of County Seat Players, to audition for her show, but she was apprehensive that he would find it a conflict of interest.
To her happy surprise, Miles was delighted to participate. “I was thrilled that people would ‘cross boundaries’ to do a show with other groups,” Joanie explains. “Mr. Miles said, ‘If it’s good for the arts in Gwinnett, it’s good for the County Seat Players.’ That statement is so very Phil! He’s a wonderful man.”
Soon the two groups combined efforts with the production of “The Man Who Came To Dinner” last March. Although they kept separate identities, the two theater groups saw in one another many similarities. First and foremost, all agreed that a theater that was affordable to emerging groups for both rehearsal and performance space was a critical need.
“Finding adequate rehearsal space is very tough, although it can be funny sometimes,” Joanie says. “When you are rehearsing in a church or a school, although we are always grateful for the space, there can be distractions. Boy Scout groups, Bible study groups and choir rehearsals might be scurrying about while we’re over here in a corner dancing away! Rehearsal space is so difficult to find, and it is just as important as performance space.”
Now, a location to fill all needs could be in GPAC’s future! Mum’s the word, but a building has been located that just fits the bill. It is only a matter of time before area theater supporters will have to grab their paintbrushes and hammers and transform this building into the much-needed theater space.
In support of this effort, Joanie is helping plan a social event held in conjunction with the County Seat Players’ mid-February production of “Lilies of the Field,” or Lionheart’s production of “The Outing” in April. This event would focus on support and recruitment of individuals and other arts groups towards the procurement and use of the potential space or another building.
“Our goal is to take a lot of the hassle out of putting on a show,” says Joanie. “With a common space, we can help many groups and make life a lot easier for them. Artists can focus on their acting, music, dance or other craft rather than worrying about where to rehearse next week.”
Anyone interested in this grassroots effort should contact the group at their GPAC Web site: This site is open to other nonprofit arts groups as a vehicle to advertise their productions. GPAC hopes that other emerging area arts groups will join GPAC as the county continues to grow in population and in the arts.
Joanie has another idea that takes the new building a step further. She dreams, “I can envision this space for theater, dance and music events, but there could be so much more. I see coffee house nights with gallery space for visual artists, developing theater script readings, poetry readings, and improv comedy.”
With people determined to make visions such as these become reality, the future of Gwinnett’s art scene is healthy indeed.
Holley Calmes is the marketing director for the Gwinnett Council for the Arts. Her column appears in the Friday Weekend section. E-mail Calmes at

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